Published 30 November 2018, The Daily Tribune

Having peace of mind is quintessential whether for a family occupying a residential apartment, or for a savvy businessman running his business in a leased space. Security and stability are just some of the reasons people enter into long-term lease arrangements with landlords and property owners, for indeed the assurance that one will not be disturbed in his possession is worth the premium payment accompanying such arrangements, as well as the prolonged commitment to pay rent that comes with a longer lease.

However, when the owner/landlord (legally termed “lessor”) suddenly decides to sell, what remedies are available to the hapless tenant (often termed “lessee”)? Is he powerless under the terms of his lease agreement?

Under our Civil Code, in the lease of things, the lessor binds himself to give the lessee the enjoyment or use of the unit in exchange for a sum of money, commonly termed as “rent.”  Generally, the lessor is obliged to maintain the lessee in the peaceful and adequate enjoyment of the lease for the entire duration of their contract.  In exchange,  the lessee must pay rent according to the terms of the lease agreement and to use the thing leased as a diligent father of a family, devoting it to the use agreed.

But what if one learns that the lessor has sold the unit to a third party, and is now frantic in ejecting the tenant to give way to the new owner?

The first thing to consider is the type of property and amount of rent involved. If the unit is residential and the monthly rent does not exceed Php 10,000.00, the lease is covered by Republic Act No. 9653, or the Rent Control Act. This law guarantees that neither the lessor nor the new owner may eject the lessee upon the ground that the leased premises have been sold or mortgaged to a third person. This law applies even if the lease agreement is not registered.

If the unit involved is not residential or the monthly rent exceeds Php 10,000.00, the lessee must register his lease before the Registry of Deeds and have the registration reflected in the title of the property in order to protect his interests. This is because under the Civil Code, if a lease of a piece of land is recorded in the Registry of Deeds of the place wherein the property is situated, neither the lessor nor the new owner may terminate the lease.

Other instances wherein the lease may not be terminated is when the sale contract between the lessor and the new owner provides otherwise, or when the purchaser knows of the existence of the lease. The former rarely happens while the latter scenario is difficult to prove, thus, it is  still a prudent practice for the lessee to register his lease with the Registry of  Deeds.

This is not to say, however, that the lessee is entirely powerless if his lease is not registered.   As a rule, the owner cannot forcibly evict a tenant. Article 536 of our Civil Code provides that in no case may possession be acquired through force or intimidation as long as there is a possessor who objects thereto. Further, he who believes that he has an action or a right to deprive another of possession (in this case, the lessor or new owner) must invoke the aid of the competent court if the possessor refuses to yield.

As a matter of course, the owner must first file a case for Unlawful Detainer against the tenant in any of the Metropolitan Trial Courts (MTCs) of the place wherein the property is located. Unlawful detainer is an action to recover possession of real property from one who illegally withholds possession after the expiration or termination of his right to hold possession under any contract, express or implied. The possession by the defendant in unlawful detainer is originally legal but became illegal due to the expiration or termination of the right to possess.

If the lessor or new owner proceeds with forced eviction without a judgment from the MTC, he may be prosecuted criminally for grave coercion under Article 286 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). Grave coercion is committed by any person who, without any authority of law, shall, by means of violence, threats, or intimidation, prevent another from doing something not prohibited by law or  that he compelled him to do something against his will, be it right or wrong. Thus, without a judgment from the MTC, neither the lessor nor the new owner may forcibly evict the lessee, even if the lease agreement is not registered. 

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